Browsing Posts in Work/Life/Travel Balance

expatriate

The word “expatriate” can mean a lot of different things depending on who it is applied to. I’ve been at the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX Europe) conference in Athens the past few days and have met loads of people who are not living in their home country. A Brazilian living in Paris, lots of Americans and Brits living in Greece, an American woman married to a Moroccan living in Marrakesh, and an Australian using Lisbon as a base. In many cases these people are digital nomads and could be living anywhere, but in others they are where they are because of someone important in their life. Here are a few categories that can have a big impact on where you end up and what your life is like.

The Family Abroad

I did an article for The Vacation Gals that came out last week on living abroad for less as a family. There are plenty of families doing this, on every continent, but it’s not always as easy as for a single person. Start first with what you’ll do about education, think about how you’ll deal with language options, and narrow the potential list down to places where you’re going to feel both safe and stimulated.

The Digital Nomad

If you’re working from a laptop and can travel light, you can live the digital nomad life and not be all that concerned about pesky visa rules and long-term housing options. One of the hosts of the Tropical MBA podcast estimated he could live anywhere in the world for $2,500 a month or less if he just took out a few outliers off the list, like Tokyo and Zurich. Just find an apartment (or long-term hotel rental) with decent internet, eat like a local would eat. and shop where they do for groceries. When you hit the tourist visa limit of two, three, or six months that’s in place locally, pack up the bag and go.

The Retiree

If you’re putting the old life in storage and moving abroad to retire, your key factors are probably going to be a bit different. You want a place where you can stretch your fixed income/savings—a place where you can easily get a better life for half the price. You also have to be more concerned about health care though, probably picking a place that’s not more than a few hours from a major hospital or medical facility. You’ll likely want warm or spring-like as opposed to a place requiring a parka and a snow shovel. You’ll find plenty of great candidates in this book.

luxury real estate Panama City

The Overseas Employee

Often a person living abroad is doing it for job reasons, either because they took an opportunity abroad or their spouse did. Often this is a beautiful thing because it means a higher standard of living from getting a good salary in a country where it goes a long way. There may even be a housing allowance built into the deal. For this situation you don’t have many decisions under your control, so you’re mainly going to go with the flow. If you have a choice in where you’ll be posted or choose to apply for jobs, however, you’ll get much more of an advantage out of it living in a place where you can easily afford a maid, gardener, driver, masseuse, and tutor than you will scraping by in London or Oslo.

The Business Builder

If you’re an entrepreneur trying to build a location independent business, cost is going to be a big factor. So it community too though, unless you’re fine having just virtual support and no physical support. If you do want a local tech labor pool and people or your kind to collaborate with, that can have a big impact on your choice of location. Great cities for this right now include Saigon, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Cebu City, Medellin, Buenos Aires, Panama City, Berlin, and (not as cheap) Santiago. There are pockets of people elsewhere too of course, and if you start looking at where those tribes hang out online, you’ll see lots of other locations popping up.

The Tagalong Spouse

Many people end up as expatriated because of love—or a least companionship. A Canadian woman with a Mexican husband, an American man with an Argentine wife, a Kiwi woman with a Czech husband, a German man with a Thai wife. Often it’s better for both parties to live in the cheaper country where one side of the family is than to try to go through years of paperwork on the more difficult and expensive side of that equation. It’s often better for the current or eventual kids as well, with a bigger local support system. I profiled a few couples and families in my book that are in this situation, from India to Portugal to Cambodia. In this case the place is usually the choice of A or B, but choose the living situation carefully if you want to retain a bit of the privacy you’re used to!

The Escapee

Many expats fit the stereotype of the escapee, someone trying to get away from a situation they found too painful or too boring to keep enduring. Divorcees and life crisis types fall into this category, as do overworked execs who barely escaped a nervous breakdown. If this is you at you’re at the end of your rope, go somewhere temporarily where you can take a deep breath. Often people in this situation aren’t thinking clearly and they stop in the first place they land and call it their new home. A year or two later, they’re disgruntled again because it wasn’t really a good match in the clear light of later.

For guidance on the best places to live for a good price and what to consider when moving, see the Cheap Living Abroad site for package options.

 

living in Portugal

I’ve sung the praises of traveling for cheap in Portugal before after being impressed by how reasonably priced it was when I visited last year. But what does it cost to actually live there as an expat? Here’s an excerpt from A Better Life for Half the Price with the scoop from some people who have made the move.

When Susan Korthase and her husband were looking to move abroad from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, they had already lived abroad and moved 17 times. They started diving into the options and considered all the usual “retire abroad” suspects. They decided to go traveling around and check out different options, but they started in Europe, with plans to begin on the Atlantic coast and make their way east.

“The first place we started with was Portugal, but we went to the Algarve and really disliked it quite a bit. We went to Lisbon, and that was better, but at the very end of our two-week trip we got on a train and went to Cascais and said, “Wow, this is it!” We had planned to move on and check out other places, but we never did. We just stayed. We rented out our condo back home and eventually took a trip back to get new visas, but we have been here since January of 2011.”

Unless you’re loaded, it’s hard to imagine moving to Western Europe unless you’re working for a big company that’s posting you there on a job transfer.

Portugal is the odd man out though. Even before the recent economic debt crisis, it was a country that was drastically less expensive to travel in than its other euro-using counterparts. Since the crisis started, prices have flatlined for anything not imported.

Reasonable Housing Costs

With the economic crisis in Europe still hitting Portugal hard, it’s a buyer’s market for real estate and a renter’s market for apartments—at least outside the university towns. Many Portuguese people will tell you that €750/$1,000 is a pretty common amount for locals to live on. Sure, several family members will generally pool resources in one home, but still, if you move here as a couple that can bring in $3,000 a month, you’re going to be considered very well-off by local standards.

Julie Dawn Fox had been teaching English as a second language for 12 years, mostly for the British Council. After living in Spain, Tanzania, and Venezuela, she was getting tired of the transient lifestyle and wanted to settle down somewhere in Europe. “I missed the boat on buying a house in the UK; had an opportunity when I was younger but passed on it to go traveling instead,” she says. “While I was gone, prices skyrocketed and there was no way I could afford it. I looked at Portugal and the prices were much more affordable. I knew I could buy a house there on my own. I got a job teaching, but then I met my husband (also English) there. We only pay a couple hundred euros a month for his place. The drawback of that is we need two cars. We’re about 35 kilometers from Coimbra city where we work. We spend €200-250 a month on petrol. It’s usually more than our mortgage”

Julie and her husband regularly put €1,200 a month (around $1,620) from their teachers’ salaries into a joint account and that covers all their expenses. “If you aren’t extravagant, you can live well on a decent wage. Occasionally there’s enough left over for eating out and a bit of travel. We could probably could do it on €1,000 a month if we had to.” They are living in a modest three-bedroom house, but the low mortgage cost definitely helps. “This house would probably be 700 – 800 pounds a month in the UK,” she estimates. “We wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

Gail Aguiar has plenty of places to compare with her new home in northern Portugal. She was born in the Philippines but moved as a toddler with her family to Canada. “I grew up in several regions of Canada, where she spent time in Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto, and Banff. In between there was time in Australia, the UK, and the semi-rural northeastern U.S. This is it, though,” she says. “I have no plans to move anywhere else unless my Portuguese husband suddenly decides he wants to try expat life for himself, in which case I would join him.”

Alentejo region

Gail lives about 10 miles from the center of Porto and while her husband already owned a place, she says rental for a two-bedroom apartment like she’s in starts at around 400 euros per month ($540). In the center of Porto prices would be similar, but the apartment might be older and smaller.

Prices are similar in Lisbon, where a one-bedroom flat in a prime area can be found for under $600 a month and if you’re willing to expand your zone of possibilities, you could get more space or a lower price.

Buying a place is very reasonable by European standards throughout the country. “In Coimbra, for a reasonable apartment you would pay 150,000 to 200,000 euros for a nice two- or three-bedroom place. In rural areas, it’s easy to find a place that size for 100,000 euros or less,” says Julie. “There are lots of repossessions and bank sales going on right now. Banks sometimes offer 100 percent mortgages on these so you don’t need a big down payment, but restrictions are rather strict. When I was looking into it, they wanted an additional guarantor for the mortgage. They also wanted us to buy life insurance that would cover the amount in case something happened to us.”

Alicia and her husband paid cash for their home from a sale in England and had enough left over for a fixer-upper project on top. They live near the Silver Coast in Central Portugal, half an hour from the ocean and an hour from Lisbon and the airport. “We have a pool and an olive grove, and gorgeous views. We also bought an incredibly cheap village house in Castelo Branco which is a stunning area,” she says. “We get to experience real village life and the neighbors are very friendly. We are renovating the house and its slow going as we don’t live there now but we plan to rent it out for holidays.

Property prices are incredibly low,” she adds. “For the price of a tiny terrace or flat in, for example, The Midlands area of the UK you can get a lovely three-bedroom house with a garden near the coast or a two-bedroom flat a stop or two away from the center of Lisbon. We viewed a three-bedroom flat with a view of the sea for €35,000 just a ten-minute drive away from the city of Lisbon and only a 5 minute walk to the metro.

They don’t have rent or a mortgage since they own the house outright, but Alicia says, “You can get something decent from about €350 a month in Central Portugal and on the Silver Coast.” For their five-bedroom house near Lisbon they pay €890 per annum in property taxes. For the two-bedroom house in the countryside it’s only €100.

Living in Lisbon

Foreigners can own real estate outright in Portugal, but closing costs can be high: figure on 7-8 percent.

Author Alicia Sunday grew up in the Leicestershire countryside in England, moved to London for fifteen years, then to Cambridgeshire for twelve years. “We were attracted to the warmer weather in Portugal and being able to lose the mortgage and buy something with the equity from the house yet have more space and land,” she says. “We also liked the fact we could still afford to be less than an hour away from a fabulous capital city. Since coming here we have also discovered that expats are being encouraged here by lower taxes via the non-habitual residency scheme.

Good Infrastructure, Drinkable Water

This being Western Europe, infrastructure is good as well. “You can usually get broadband or Wi-Fi anywhere so if you can work on the internet then Portugal is a great place to be,” says Alicia. “You can realistically ‘live the dream’ here, be working on your laptop under a palm tree and then a quick dip in the pool in a property that can cost a lot less than 100,000 euros.”

You can drink the water, crime is low, and infrastructure is very good. The World Economic Forum ranks countries by how developed its infrastructure is and Portugal comes in at a very high #14, easing out Japan at #15 and just behind Canada at #13. (The UK, USA, and Australia aren’t in the top-20.)

There’s another place where Portugal is at the top of the list: liberal drug laws. Holland may get all the attention, but Portugal quietly dropped penalties for purchase and possession of any drug and has stuck with it. Despite the conservatives’ fears, crime hasn’t gone up and cities haven’t turned squalid. What’s defined as enough for “personal use?” That would be a 10-day supply. If you want to cut your costs while living in a liberal country with real democracy and no harsh winters, here’s your spot.

This is a good country for families, with a safe climate and good schooling options, at least in the cities. “The main reason why we decided I would move to Portugal was because we want to raise children here,” says Gail. “Portugal is much more child-friendly than Canada.”

Lisbon tram

Transportation Costs

The cost of getting around in Portugal has a lot to do with whether you’re driving a car on the highways or not.

Gail says in Porto a monthly public transit pass for their (outer) zone is €36, with individual trips as needed into the city being €1.50 each. One subway, bus, or tram ride in Lisbon ranges from €1.40 to €2.85, but an all-day unlimited pass is €6 and a whole month is the same as in Porto: €36.

A taxi in Lisbon for two people is officially €2.25 to start, then €1.60 per km. This can vary a lot across the country though. When I was in Evora it was €3.25 to go two blocks, but only €0.80 per km after that.

Bus routes in rural zones are not very frequent, but between the larger towns and cities it’s a different story. The 1.5 hour bus ride from Lisbon to Evora is €12.50 one-way. A 2.5 hour bus ride (Lisbon-Western Algarve towns for example) will run around €20 one-way, while the three-hour one between Lisbon and Porto is €24 to €42 depending on how luxurious it is.

What can really kill your budget in a hurry here though are the tolls on the expressways. “The highway tolls can really have a big impact on the cost of your trip,” says Julie. “Below Lisbon to Algarve, there’s a short stretch of road that’s 20 euros, for example. But it saves loads of time, so people pay it if they can afford it. The good thing is, the motorways are pretty empty when you’re on them because of the high cost.”

“Motorway tolls are a definite minus,” agrees Alicia. “They are far too expensive and thus not well used.”

You need to check the routes you don’t know in advance because you don’t stop at a booth and pay: you get charged automatically via a sticker on your windshield. You could return from a jaunt around the country to find a hefty bill on your account.

Portugal countryside

Health Care

The World Health Organization ranks the effectiveness of care in Portugal at number 12 in the world, well ahead of the United States, England, and Canada. Portugal also has the 10th-highest life expectancy for women in the world, at 84. Pregnant women get 120 days of paid leave at full salary and you won’t get stuck with a hefty bill if an ambulance picks you up at the scene of an accident.

Julie and her husband both have health care through her employer, but says if you’re on the national health scheme, you pay €5 to see the doctor and €10 for emergency care. You pay out of pocket for lab tests and x-rays, but then you can charge them back to insurance and get reimbursed 60 to 80 percent.

In general terms, you will be treated like a local in terms of the health care system. Some costs are free, while others require a token payment. Dental costs are mostly covered by taxes, plus children, pregnant women and pensioners have the right to receive dental care for free.

To choose your own doctor or hospital outside the national health care system, various insurance schemes are available at a reasonable cost. Is Lisbon the care is excellent and if you ask around you’ll easily be able to find an English-speaking doctor. This also applies to tourist zones like the Algarve and larger cities such as Porto. In smaller towns you may just have a local clinic, which is fine for basic problems, but then you’ll likely want to travel to a larger city for surgery or serious tests.

 Visas for Living in Portugal

“For EU residents, the visa situation is quite straightforward,” says Julie. “The most important thing is to be able to prove income, to show that you can support yourself. You need to have ample documentation to show them. Assuming that’s in order, you go to the foreigners service desk and soon you’ll have a residency permit for five years, which you can then renew.”

Evora AlentejoFor those without a local spouse or EU citizenship, it can be much tougher. “Almost all the articles you read about moving to Portugal talk about Brits or other Europeans,” says Susan Korthase. She and her husband spent around $400 in fees to get their residency visa, then another $3,600 for attorney fees. Each time they renew, they have to do it all again, though this last time they got two years instead of one. “There are a set of steps, with very explicit requirements,” she says. “Then you have to overcome the language barrier, which is where the attorney comes in. You quickly forget how painful it was when it’s done, but it was. Start to finish first time was about six months. If we had tried to do it without an attorney it would have taken longer and they treat you differently. You have to accept that bureaucracy will be a lot more complicated than you’re probably used to and people in the offices will be asking for things they don’t really need.” Next year they’ll be at the five-year mark though and can then apply for a five-year residency permit. At that point the big renewal bill they face each year from the attorney will go away.

For new arrivals, it turns out the prevailing assumption that you can only get a three-month visa is not true. Susan and her husband applied for six months at the embassy in Washington, D.C. before they left and after showing the means to support themselves, it was granted easily. In theory anyway, you could return to the USA for a bit and then do it again if you still didn’t have residency sorted out.

Susan writes about living in Portugal for ExpatExchange.com and also does consulting for people considering a move to her adopted country. “I’ve been able to help a few dozen people who are considering Portugal but can’t find a path through the confusing, capacious, and contradictory information about the process, costs, resources, and difficulties. Some of them cross Portugal off the list, opting for a Costa Rica or Belize. But for those of us who seek a first-world, high-culture experience, Portugal is among the most accessible.”

Alicia sums it all up like this: “The health care is good. Foreign investment is going into the area. School fees are reasonable. People are generally friendly and helpful. The scenery is stunning and there is so much beautiful coastline it’s easy to live near the sea and have spectacular views. To know that within half an hour of where we live is the opportunity to go surfing, swimming, sailing, etc. is just wonderful.”

 

This article is a shortened excerpt from A Better Life for Half the Price. For more in-depth information on Portugal and other countries where you can drastically cut your living expenses, get a copy of the book or sign up for an insiders membership program

 

living in Guanajuato

A morning view from my office

“What are you doing down there?” is the first question I get about living in Mexico. (Half the time followed by “Is it safe?”)

“Same thing I was doing in the other places I lived,” is my stock answer. I worked for many years to put myself in a position of being location independent, so all that changes from a work standpoint is how fast my internet connection is and what kind of view I’ve got outside my window.

There are lots of people in my position though. Graphic artists, translators, online professors, marketing consultants, sales reps, technical writers, systems analysts, and on the list goes for at least a hundred jobs. Then there’s the big one: entrepreneur. Create your own job and say adios to the cubicle forever. You can then cut your expenses in half (and lengthen your start-up runway) by moving somewhere cheaper. That’s what I talked about with Jen Leo, Gary Arndt, and Chris Christensen on the This Week in Travel podcast. You can get it on iTunes or click on the pic below to stream it:

This week in travel podcast

OK, first we talked about fights over reclining airport seats and a public statue you can get sued for publishing a photo of, but after that we get into lots of info about moving abroad. After you’ve listened, go here and you could win a free copy of the book or the Committed package: This Week in Travel promo.

Sabbaticals and Long-term Travel

But what if you only want to take off for a while, not permanently? That’s fine too. I’ve done it many times. Here’s a great BootsnAll article from a year ago that I and lots of other people were quoted in with their experiences. It’s called Why a Travel Break Can Be the Best Career Move You Ever Made and it dispels some of those myths about how your career will take a nosedive if you go traveling for more than two weeks.

A gap on the resumé? Better to have actually done something during that gap than to have been one of the millions who sat around waiting for the phone to ring. If you spin it right, that trip or living abroad experience can set you apart from the pack also. For many it’s more of a positive than a negative when they go back to the grind.

Where to travel for cheap? You’ll have to close the “50 Hottest Sex Tips” pop-up ad to get to this Men’s Health slideshow article, but there are some good ideas on bargain destinations from yours truly. (They decided I knew more about that than how to pick up women or get six-pack abs.)

You need to hold onto your money though and keep it from prying fingers. I’m quoted in this article from Nora Dunn on 14 Ways Travel Experts Carry Cash While Traveling.

Speaking of safety—and false perceptions—I’ve said before that a lot of people avoid Mexico City for outdated reasons. Here’s an article I wrote for American Airlines’ magazine on how to have a great 48 hours there.

 

half price living Granada

$1,800 for two is “extravagant” here…

Are you happy with your finances? Are you content with how much you’re paying for your basic expenses each month? Does the future look cheery and bright where you are in the USA, Canada, the UK, or Australia?

I’ve been dropping hints and asking for sign-ups all year for my latest book, A Better Life for Half the Price, and now it’s here. It’s filled with stories from expats who have made the leap and are living large—or at least not going broke—in some of the cheapest places to live in the world.

I’m one of them myself, of course, kicking back in the highlands of central Mexico and enjoying a gorgeous climate. I’m also enjoying having twice as much money to work with as I had before, without having to work more hours to increase my earnings. If you want to see my view, my dining room, and our cool Mexican kitchen (plus my $15 electric bill), here’s a video for you.

 

There are plenty of other places on this big planet where you can do the same though. I interviewed couples easily coasting on $1,500 a month or living extravagantly for less than $2,000. You can find shoestring backpackers getting by in Chiang Mai, Thailand for $500 a month, but those who are spending more than $1,000 are often having the times of their lives. I spoke with singles, couples, and families who cut their expenses in half (or more) as soon as they got set up in such diverse locations as Argentina, Portugal, India, and Vietnam.

If you’re curious about how this would all work, pick up the e-book and see.

4 Additional Reports from Experts:
Besides this e-book, which is the paperback equivalent of 300 pages of great info, you’ll also get some worksheets from me on choosing your ideal spot, plus these special reports:

The Best Tools for Mobile Workers by Natalie Sisson of The Suitcase Entrepreneur
Negotiation for Expats by T.W. Anderson, author of The Expat Guidebook and editor of Marginal Boundaries
How to Get Free Accommodation (when you’re scoping out your ideal spots) by Nora Dunn of The Professional Hobo
Getting Started With Working Online by Christine Gilbert of Almost Fearless

If you’re committed to ditching your high-priced life and finding a better way, there’s a package with all that plus webinars, audio interviews, and a private Facebook group for sharing answers and ideas.

If you’re ready to go all-in, you can avoid all the pitfalls and really do it right with all of the above plus live online sessions and one-on-one coaching from me.

See the options here

This book has been in process since 2013 and to give you an idea of how robust it is, when it comes out in paperback form at the end of the year it will be more than 300 pages. It’s filled with expat stories, details on important things like visas and costs, and lots of resources to turn to for more depth.

To get the full scoop and decide this is something you’d like to pursue, see some tales from the expats here.

moving-500

If you’re going to move abroad by choice rather than for a job posting, it can seem overwhelming to view the sea of possibilites and narrow it down. Some people use this as an excuse to not take action, others send me e-mails or leave blog comments asking for a short cut answer to “Where should I go?”

Now I’ve got a book I can send everyone to for answers, with some consulting options for those who need it. Here’s an excerpt from there about where to start.

There are three main criteria most pros and cons about a destination fall into. There are head items, which are factual “must-have” factors you can easily substantiate from the comfort of your sofa with a laptop or tablet in hand. Then there’s the question of “What can you afford?” That one’s pretty cut and dry, once you have good information on the costs for basic living expenses and setting up residency. If you’re lucky to pull in $1,000 a month, head to Cambodia, Nepal, or Nicaragua. If money is no object, you can pretty much ignore this part and just look at the head and heart items. Most people fall somewhere in the middle though.

The heart factor is the hardest one to work out remotely. Sure, you can collect e-books, watch Travel Channel shows, check out YouTube videos, and join Facebook groups or message boards for that destination. Really though, none of those things will fully prepare you for how that place will make you feel.

Let’s look at each factor on its own.

Head

If a place doesn’t meet your main criteria for an ideal place to live, you’re probably not going to be happy living there. As a travel writer who visits ten or twelve different countries each year, I often ask myself when visiting a new place, “Could I live here?”

Usually the answer is no for some very specific factual reasons — my head reasons. It’s too cold, too hot, too cloudy/rainy, too isolated, too overrun with gringos, too ugly, too unfriendly to pedestrians, and so on. For others, there may be no such thing as “too hot” or “too overrun with gringos,” They may think a steamy hot place where they can speak English every day with their fellow countrymen and women is perfecto.

Puebla at night

If you have health issues though, this may be the first place to start in narrowing down your choices. If you are allergic to mold, you may want to seek out a dry climate. If you have limited mobility, you don’t want to live in a city built on the side of a mountain. If you’re someone who just doesn’t want to die young, you’re probably not going to want to live in Beijing, where pollution levels are frequently 20 times the levels considered healthy and you can’t see more than two blocks away because of the smog. If you’re a retiree, you probably also don’t want to be in some remote location that’s a day’s drive from the nearest decent hospital. In almost any area where you find lots of people in your age bracket, there will be at least one good medical facility in town and many other larger ones you can get to in a couple hours or less.

What’s on your checklist? Think about climate, culture, food, air connectivity, land connectivity, and apartment/house options. What’s a deal breaker?

Lisa Niver Rajna of We Said Go Travel has lived in multiple countries for three months or more at a time and says it’s important to listen to the signs, to be willing to scratch your plans if something better arises. “We never would have gone to Ko Samui in Thailand if a friend of a friend hadn’t invited me on Twitter. Once we got there, it just felt right. Look for something that fits with you and matches your passion.”

“If it doesn’t feel right, move on. We had planned to live in Panama for six months, but after 13 days we left and were in Costa Rica. When we wrote about our feelings on the blog, we got a lot of negative feedback and people saying, ‘You need to give it a chance.’ But we did give it a chance. We went to five different locations and compared to Thailand where we fell in love, Panama was a big disappointment.” It wasn’t right for them, so they moved on. For someone else, it may be just right.

Wallet

While you may be dreaming of retiring on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, on the beach in the Virgin Islands, or in a nice slopeside chalet in Switzerland, your bank account might not agree with those plans. You need to find a way to combine your checklist of ideal factors with places you can actually afford.

If you picture yourself in a lakeside cottage looking up at jagged snow-capped mountains, you don’t have to spend $100,000 a year in Switzerland. You can move south of Bariloche in Argentina and live for one-fifth that amount instead. If you want to be on a warm-water beach with hot weather, there are 100 choices in Latin America and Southeast Asia that are a fraction of the cost of a Caribbean Island residence.

cheap place to liveFor most of the cheapest places to live, a pair of retirees living off two social security checks or an equivalent pension can get by just fine. In some countries, if you earn $1,500 for one person, $2.400 for two, you’ll be living on far more than the average middle-class local. That may not sound like a lot where you live now, but it will be double, triple, or quadruple what’s considered a good local salary. If you’ve got more than that coming in, you can be choosier about where to go and can upgrade your living standards.

Keep in mind though that there are major variations within a country, especially a big country like Mexico. The more expatriates there are in an area, the higher the prices will probably be: witness San Miguel de Allende. The more of a tourist destination it is, the higher prices will be: witness Los Cabos.

Also, just because you can live on $1,500 a month doesn’t mean the government thinks that’s enough wealth to grant you permanent residency. In Nicaragua a retiree only has to show monthly income of $600 a month, but in Mexico you have to show $2,000 for you and another $500 for each dependent. There are ways around this sometimes if you can show other assets or finagle a work permit, but do keep these restrictions in mind before making big plans.

Heart

The authors of Freakonomics and Think Like a Freak do a regular podcast on NPR and in one episode they answered a listener’s question about how an economist would pick the perfect place to live. Stephen Leavitt said some of his most important factors — what economists would call “amenities” — were access to golf courses, fast food drive-throughs, and houses with big yards. He didn’t care much about museums and cultural activities, but he could never live in a place without easy access to a golf course. In other words, he was meant to live in the suburbs, and specifically an American-style suburb.

Steve Dubner lives in New York City and said his most important factors were the density of ideas, people, and creativity–and the resulting spillover effect. Without being in a big city where people interact a lot, he wouldn’t get any of that. “I could never live in a place without a good diner,” he added.

In the end, they decided that choosing a place to live was only an economic decision when it came to finding a place with the right amenities: childless couples don’t care about schools, but for parents it may be #1. Otherwise, it’s a decision you make with your heart.

beach living

Most “heart” factors can vary a lot even between couples who are on the same page in most other attitudes and ideals. A place may feel “just perfect” to one of them, while feeling like “a total s#*thole” to the other. As you can imagine, this can be the beginning of the end if they ignore these differences and try to plow forward.

For all these factors, it’s worth taking some quiet time with no distractions to talk them through, maybe even writing down the answers mind-map style. When I’ve asked people what they love about a place, there’s often a mix of head and heart in the answers and the heart ones can end up being really esoteric. Some cite a specific yoga teacher, a local hike they love, or the kind of pottery they use in their kitchen. One left the first place she lived because “the coffee really sucks there. I was annoyed every day.”

For couples, talk out loud when you’re traveling about why a place would be a good place to live and why it wouldn’t. The time to argue about what’s important is before you move, not after.

Then go do a trial run to see if what looked good on paper really pans out in person. More on that later…

Hear how other expats are living a half price life abroad on the Cheap Living Abroad site.



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